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Obama's New Mission: Connect with Iowans


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.



And I'm Michele Norris. Barack Obama is the talk of the political world this week. His presidential campaign raised $25 million in the first quarter of 2007 and nearly equaled the record set by Hillary Rodham Clinton. On the campaign trail in Iowa today, Senator Obama himself mentioned all the money that he's been pulling in.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Recently, it was reported that I'd raised a lot of money for the presidential race, which was nice. But I have to tell you the only reason we did it is because we have thousands of people all across the country who were donating $25 and $10 because they felt a sense that this is an opportunity, that we're in this moment in time where we've got this window where we might be able to take our country back.

NORRIS: NPR's David Greene is with the Obama campaign, and he joins us now on the phone from Algona, Iowa. Hello, David.

DAVID GREENE: Hi, Michele.

NORRIS: It sounds like the candidate might be trying to distinguish his $25 million from the millions raised by his rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.


GREENE: I think that's exactly what he's trying to do. You know, if you say this bundle of money is coming from small donations around the country, Obama can try to have it both ways. You know, he can say he's raising as much money as Senator Clinton but that he's not tainted by these huge donors.

Of course, as he rakes in more and more money, there's going to be a lot of scrutiny into who's exactly contributing to his campaign, and those questions will surely be front and center as his campaign goes on.

NORRIS: So David, now that it's clear they've raked in all that money, is there anything visibly different about the Obama campaign out there on the trail?

GREENE: Not really, though you can tell talking to his campaign staff that they're riding high on this right now. But they're trying not to gloat. They're taking sort of an aw-shucks attitude, that they were surprised by the numbers. And they say that Iowans don't care that much about money, so Obama only brings it up in his speeches very briefly.

They stress that it's a long campaign. They say we'll see if the money keeps pouring in. But, you know, as a marker for where Obama is compared to Clinton, I think they realize it's very important but again careful not to gloat.

NORRIS: Now they say that Iowans don't care. What are you hearing from Iowans about all that money?

GREENE: Well, they say sort of the same thing. They say that, you know, Iowans are very politically savvy. They say this is clearly a signal that this campaign is serious and standing toe-to-toe with Senator Clinton, but that they want to hear more about issues and less about financial disclosures.

NORRIS: What about the crowds?

GREENE: He always draws a lot of attention, and we know that. He began his day in Mason City, Iowa, and the huge headline stripped across the paper was Obamarama, as catchy as you think that is. And his crowds have been pretty much the same as usual.

These are not raucous rallies. His style is to really have a conversation, and really the few times that people applaud in any significant way is when he brings up the war and when he says that it's time to leave Iraq.

NORRIS: Is there any chance this week, now that he's disclosed his fundraising figures, that this may hurt him in some way, going from sort of the humble status of the first-term senator to all this visibility as a major fundraiser?

GREENE: Well I actually talked to a lot of voters about that today, and you know, their memory is fresh about Howard Dean, his star-power in Iowa and how it fell before the caucuses were over. And Iowans say that, you know, Obama is riding very high but that, you know, the same thing could always happen. I think Iowans take pride in being very measured and making sure not to make their decisions and doing their analysis for the moment.

NORRIS: David, just quickly, last month, Obama had some trouble with questions about health care at that candidate's forum. How's he doing on the subject this week?

GREENE: Sticking to the same line, that he's going to come up with a plan sometime soon but that for now he's staying away from specifics, which makes him in a different place than some of the other candidates.

NORRIS: Thanks so much, David.

GREENE: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's David Greene with the Obama campaign, speaking to us from Algona, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.